The third and final prequel short for Denis Villeneuve‘s Blade Runner 2049 has arrived and it is glorious. Shinichiro Watanabe has crafted a thrilling short story that acts as narrative connective tissue between Ridley Scott‘s original film and the highly anticipated sequel. You can watch it right now on Crunchyroll, unless you’re lucky enough to be in Japan where it’s been released on Warner Bros.’ YouTube page, but either way we’ve included a run-down and analysis of it for you below. (If nothing else, this approach to the movie’s marketing is refreshingly original and has me more excited than I would be simply watching trailers and clips alone; what a novel idea!)
Now, we’ve seen all three prequel shorts from Villeneuve’s collaborators. In chronological order, we start with Watanabe’s Blade Runner: Black Out 2022, followed by Luke Scott‘s short focusing on Jared Leto‘s Niander Wallace, 2036: Nexus Dawn; and concluding with Scott’s second short centering on Dave Bautista‘s Sapper, 2048: Nowhere to Run. That brings us just about to the timeline of Blade Runner 2049; it’s these three prequels that set the stage for the sci-fi spectacular sequel. How it plays out from there remains to be seen by audiences everywhere, but early reactions are very positive.
As we’ve learned from clips and trailers, L.A. survived massive destruction after the detonation of an atmospheric bomb, causing an EMP to wipe out all electronics and machinery. Collateral damage from the blackout included the memory bearings of the Replicant facility though “there are sometimes fragments” that can be recovered. Now, we learn the truth of what caused the blackout and what exactly the rationale behind it really was, thanks to Watanabe’s beautifully animated and dramatically told prequel.
Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 opens with a shadowy figure of a man lurching out of a fire-blasted landscape. His left eye glows red (reminiscent of a Terminator…) while he holds something in his other hand. That’s about all we get in this mysterious introduction.
With the relatively short time available for this prequel (about 15 minutes), some exposition is delivered in text:
While the Replicant NEXUS 6 expired in inventory, TYRELL CORP. pushed the series 8 into the local and Off-world market.
The NEXUS series 8 were purpose-built with a natural lifespan.
Soon the human supremacy movements began.
This is where the riots start up. Humans go after Replicants in brutal fashion, kicking, beating, and killing them before stringing them up for all to see like a lynch mob. All done in black-and-white, the chaotic scenes speak to the violence committed against “Skinjobs” in the recent past and present. More exposition details how this happened:
These angry masses used the Replicant Registration database to identify and kill Replicants.
That leads us to the current time in this story, 2022. Three men accost an “angel”, a NEXUS 8 Replicant by the name of Trixie who’s sitting slumped against an alley wall in the rain. (Points for everyone picking up on the thematic ties of angels, rain, etc. from the original Blade Runner.) Unfortunately for the men, she has a protector by the name of Cygnus, who goes by Iggy, another NEXUS 8 who was clearly made for combat. (Iggy’s incept date: September 30, 2019.)
But we soon learn that Trixie is no simple pleasure doll. Her incredible athletic prowess allows her to drop from a hovership, land on a gas tanker truck, and dispatch the driver in a series of fluid movements that pay homage to both Pris and Zhora. It’s also a nice nod to Watanabe’s signature style of action-packed animation.
Next up for Blade Runner faithful is a surprising addition, that of Gaff, voiced by Edward James Olmos who reprises his role from the original film. They’re tracking five NEXUS 8 models who escaped the off-world colony of Kalanthia; soldiers, to be precise. Another of the escaped Replicants? Morton, a.k.a Sapper (Dave Bautista), incepted March 22, 2019. However, “dealing with deserters is the military’s job now, not our concern,” says Gaff, referring to the Blade Runners. There’s a lot of mythology packed into this one short scene, along with a lot of answers for the upcoming film.
Providing more answers is a flashback sequence that visits the Red Light District where Trixie is with a human customer inside the Doll House. However, this particular human is an ally and an admirer of Replicants, especially Trixie. Whether Trixie seduced him as part of her ultimate plan or whether she actually had feelings for him is left up for debate. Why target this particular human? Because he works at a nuclear weapon silo facility. The Replicants plan to use him to launch a missile, detonate it over L.A. and generate an EMP that shuts the city down, “a darkness that the humans have never known”, as Iggy puts it.
In a sort of futuristic Fight Club scenario, Iggy and Trixie are tasked with blowing up all the magnetic backups of the archives while the other data centers will be taken out by Replicant cells. They’re aiming to wipe out any records of Replicant registration and thus restore their freedom. This makes them ostensibly and passably human, except for their “perfect right eye” which contains a production code. Iggy realized as much on the battlefields of Kalanthia where both sides of the conflict were Replicants, “toy soldiers in a sand box.”
What follows is an excellent fight scene as Iggy and Trixie take on the guards at the data facility. For fans of Cowboy Bebop, Iggy basically takes on the role of Jet Black while Trixie shows off a combination of Spike’s fighting style with Faye’s femme fatale abilities. It’s a fantastic sequence; clearly Watanabe hasn’t lost a step. This whole prequel is a must-watch, but this part in particular is a delight.
As you might have guessed, the EMP attack is successful. L.A. is crippled and panic ensues. Replicant registration records are damaged beyond repair in most cases. More exposition follows:
The Blackout, which led to the prohibition of Replicant production, sealed the fate of the TYRELL CORPORATION.
It took over a decade for the WALLACE CORP. to win approval to manufacture a new breed of Replicants.
And yet, somehow, Iggy survives the massive blast at the data facility and emerges from the flames, holding a perfect right eye … his own perfect right eye.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fantastic music at play here. Watanabe always finds the best collaborators in this regard. This time around, Grammy nominee Flying Lotus (aka Steven Ellison) has scored the soundtrack and Grammy nominee Lauren Daigle has composed an original song, “Almost Human”, for the anime short. Watanabe specifically requested Flying Lotus to compose the score, which is heavily influenced by jazz and hip-hop. The music team at Alcon Sleeping Giant (ASG), the music partnership of Alcon Entertainment and Sleeping Giant Media, worked closely with Flying Lotus to create an original score that blends his unique style with the iconic sound of the Blade Runner franchise. In addition to Flying Lotus, the score also features additional music by Gerald Trottman, Kuedo and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson.
While there’s a lot to peel apart here with respect to the time between Blade Runner, and plenty of questions to ask–like who/where the other two escaped Replicants are…–one of the most fascinating questions to me is … what happened to the NEXUS 7 series? Could this, in fact, be the model of Replicant that Deckard is purported to be? We might just find out for sure once Blade Runner 2049 opens on October 6th.